January 17, 2013
The wall in the Pioneers Museum was bare where the professional bike racing jersey autographed by Lance Armstrong had hung.
For a moment Thursday, I feared I was too late.
I had wanted to be present when the staff removed the jersey of the disgraced former seven time Tour de France champion and Olympic bronze medalist.
Actually, I kind of hoped to light the match on the bonfire when it was burned.
Take a few charred embers as souvenirs.
Savor the memory as I watched him confess his doping sins to Oprah Winfrey on TV. (I couldn’t wait to see the long-defiant Armstrong grovel before Winfrey!)
Matt Mayberry, museum director, led me to a basement room where the U.S. Postal Service jersey was lying, on its back, on the floor. How appropriate.
But the jersey remained in its case.
Mayberry wasn’t about to burn it.
He still values it as a powerful symbol of Colorado Springs as the home to U.S.A. Cycling, the national governing body for competitive biking, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which since 2000 has policed Olympic athletes for performance-enhancing drugs, and the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Instead of burning it, or simply shelving the blue-and-white jersey, Mayberry’s staff was updating it to reflect its changing status from cherished souvenir to sad sign of the times.
“It’s not often we have to update our exhibits to reflect something that’s happening in the news,” Mayberry said. “It’s an interesting opportunity to show what’s going on in the world around us.
“It feels like the rest of the story.”
So his staff worked with the folks at USADA to develop a five-paragraph explanation of the scandal that dethroned Armstrong as one of the nation’s most admired athletes, known for overcoming testicular cancer to win seven consecutive Tour de France racing titles in 1999-2005.
The jersey was placed back on the wall with a footnote explaining how a USADA investigation revealed Armstrong’s doping, resulting in a lifetime ban from sanctioned sports, including marathons, and stripping him of his seven titles and his 2000 Olympic medal.
USADA is the new hero. And the jersey is the piece that tells the story.
“I don’t know what taking down the jersey would accomplish,” Mayberry said. “That would feel a little bit like trying to sanitize history. We’re not interested in that. And I like having a local connection to the story.”
I suppose that is as it should be.
In fact, I hope kids touring the museum stop and read the updated exhibit.
And take it to heart.
Who wants to end up a symbol of one of the worst cheating scandals in the history of sports?